11. Going bald. An Ancient Greek bent over an amphora. Canaryman!
11. Going bald. An Ancient Greek bent over an amphora. Canaryman!
“Is that the time?”
Kuper taps the face of his watch and holds it up to his ear.
“Two hours still to go until bedtime. But it could be worse. There might be three!”
Jumping up he rushes over to his looking glass and pushes his face up close against it.
“Yes! I am balder than before. It is a fact and it doesn’t become me. Give it two years and my head will be a skull. Come on! Didn’t I read it in a medical journal somewhere? I need to exercise, take on more fluids, expel less.”
Going quickly into the kitchen he gulps down two glasses of water from the tap and then does two dozen press ups on the floor.
He returns to the looking glass and flexes his muscles.
“A fine specimen of a man. Keep this up and one day you might be in the circus. The Mighty Atom. Fired from the nose of a cannon at twice the speed of sound. The crowd go wild!”
He pushes at his cheeks with his fingers.
“If only you didn’t look so much like a rabbit. A skull or a rabbit. Those two things are your exact destiny. How can I be so set upon! Achilles or Jason from the Argonauts never had these issues. Handsome bucks the pair of them, and these being Greek times, always a willing arsehole for their fat cocks I bet. Some nubile Spartan or Theban bent naked over an amphora. But what about me? Why should I be so abandoned?”
Throwing himself back down upon his chair he falls into a trough of despair. Who is ever going to look at him and call him a beauty? And even if they did it wouldn’t be the one he wanted. Hasn’t he wet his whistle elsewhere?
Posted his missive in an alternate slot?
Letting out a groan Kuper raises his fists to the ceiling.
“There is only one answer to this problem.”
Going into the kitchen he fetches a bottle of wine from his stock in the cupboard and along with a glass, not even washed, he takes it back to his table.
“It’s a well known fact that when you are depressed you shouldn’t drink. But it is like child rearing. Everyone knows the right thing to do but follows the bad path anyway.”
He fills the glass and downs it in one.
“To Antonio! Bottoms up! I shan’t drink too much this time, I promise you. I solemnly swear…”
It is some hours later, head flat on the table, drool seeping from his mouth, eyes red and rheumy, when he is woken by loud noises, a cacophony of cries, and the stamp of many feet.
It is coming from the street directly outside.
“What’s this now?”
He sits up and rubs at his banging head.
“Can’t they just leave us alone, like Pasteur did his Petri dish? First a wall and now are we being invaded? Hunted down?
“Didn’t they do the same thing to sperm whales? Box them into smaller and smaller quadrants and then harpoon them to the point of extinction. And all for their spermaceti. I have seen grown men bathing in the stuff.”
Jumping up, he goes swiftly over to the window and opens the curtains a chink and stares down.
“Like crabs I once saw on a nature documentary. Thousands of baby ones rushing towards the sea before the birds circling overhead could get at them and crush their still soft shells against the rocks.”
But these crabs it seems, at least, are not soldiers.
In the throng are faces he recognises.
Old Tóth, the janitor from the school, famous for his long beard in which the remains of his breakfast could always be seen. And Lengyal, the carpenter who once did some work in the shop, drinking endless cups of very sweet tea and telling sad stories of his two children who were born with enormous heads and limbs as thin as curtain rails so they resembled a pair of moons balanced rather unsteadily on pins.
We ended up painting the face of one of them red so at least they complemented and contrasted each other.
Sun and moon.
Yin and yang.
Every half needs another.
Kuper stands watching for a while and then, compelled by the thrusting force of the crowd, he pulls on his shoes and goes outside to join them.
“Steady on. Steady on! Watch where you are putting that elbow.”
Some people have dustbin lids which they are bashing with wooden spoons, other are crying out, or walking naked, their arms held aloft.
At first it is more than somewhat strange, for Kuper, who has been boxed in for quite some time, to be amongst such a bustle. But after a time, and why not?, a change is as good as a holiday, he finds comfort in the numbers.
“It is like a football match. All those men pressed against other men and pretending to be interested in yet other men with thick thighs, firm butts, come-fuck-me-haircuts, kicking a sphere of plastic from one end of a grassy green to the other. And at its termination, the ones on the pitch, with the butts, hop in the showers together while the ones from the stand all pee side by side, get your knobs out, get your knobs out, get your knobs out for the boys!
“Dingle dangle willy ahoy!”
He has become coarse. Set free.
“Yoo hoo!” he lets out one cry and then another. “Yoo hoo!”
The anonymity in the crowd is a blessing. There is a power in it. It is as if he, through the will of these people, could do anything.
It is intoxicating.
But what has happened?
He darts into a doorway and lets the crowd surge past him for some minutes.
All with one purpose?
And it comes to him.
This is a protest.
“The only thing that has stopped such actions as these before is hope. Without a hope for a future there is no point of now and with no now there is no action. So something must have changed. But what?”
Reaching out he grabs the arm of a young man, wearing nothing but a traffic cone stuck firmly on his head, it does not hide his shame, and pulls him into the doorway.
His intention is to ask what is going on, what is this catalyst, but immediately the young man utters something quite insolent and makes a hand gesture that starts off somewhere between his legs.
What a tool!
“A word of advice for free,” says Kuper, placatory, speechifying, as the young man backs bum-first from the alcove, is eaten gradually up by the press of the crowd. “With that cone on your head, your hair will not be able to breath, and if it can’t breath then it will fall out most assuredly.
“That body of yours will not always be a given. In time you will atrophy. Look to the Piltdown Man. It was with his luxurious brown hair that people fell in love. That caused Timotei to come knocking. You mark my words!”
But his words are not marked, and with only a hard on as a memory of the encounter, if you tantalise me do I not engorge?, he merges back into the crowd, which if anything, is both thicker and denser than before.
It is with the sounding of a gong, finally, J Arthur Rank presents…, that the crowd comes to a halt.
They have stopped, of course, at base of the wall, the many pushing and shoving people forming a huge semicircle.
It’s like King Kong, thinks Kuper, the tribes have gathered, the beast is awaited.
But instead of a gate, higher than a blue whale stood on its nose, the focus of this crowd is the bones of a bonfire on top of which is stood a man sporting a tight aerodynamic costume, not red, like Spiderman, but canary yellow, Canaryman.
Well I never.
This man he knows.
My childhood tormentor.
Didn’t he once give me a wedgie and, feigning friendship, piss on my matchstick constructions?
A dick I will never forget and not one to start a revolution. Our role models need to be of sturdier stock. With morals.
A megaphone to his lips, Gulbis begins to speak.
"Now I know you have all heard of that flier who made it over the wall some weeks back…"
There is a round of applause, several catcalls, whoops.
"Well now,” Gulbis twists his neck around, twists it back, “it is time for the next of us to make it over the wall!”
He holds up his arm, the one that is not holding the megaphone, in a kind of salute.
“And let this serve as an example to all of them over there. No chains can hold us! For before you you will see. The fire burns, the hot air lifts, and with my patented EscapeChuteTM, (available to purchase from my associates after the demonstration), over the wall I will go.”
It is then, as Gulbis bends down and lifts a green petrol canister from where it has been hidden in the twigs at his feet, that Kuper notices the parachute pack attached to Gulbis’s arms and neck by thick straps.
There is a nervous rustling, several calling out that the man is a fool, an idiot, that hot air, fire, and human flesh form an uncontrollable combustible mixture. But these voices are drowned out by others. ‘BRAVO’, they call, ‘let the man do as he wishes to do’, we want to see the show.
“AND NOW,” continues Gulbis, shouting into the megaphone so his words hurt ears, cause distant dogs to howl, “I WILL LIGHT THE MATCH WHOSE FLAME WILL SIGNAL THE BEGINNING OF THE END OF THE WALL.
“TOMORROW LET THERE BE TWO MORE FLIERS SPORTING MY PATENTED PACKS. THE DAY AFTER THAT FOUR. THE DAY AFTER THAT ONE HUNDRED. IN THIS WAY WE WILL ALL SAIL OVER THE WALL AND THE WALL WILL BECOME REDUNDANT. REDUNDANT. REDUNDANT.”
As the speech ends, each redundant more inflamed and impassioned than the last, Kuper becomes aware of a disturbance behind him, hissed urgent words, and the heightened press of bodies.
And it is with that single word that two brawny men push roughly past, scrabble on all fours, like crabs, up the side of the mound and throw themselves forcibly on the Canaryman, grappling him down.
And that is the apparent end of the show.
The will of the crowd snuffed out.
As the party of three makes its way down the mound, Gulbis held tightly between the other two, an elderly nun stepping forward to help, trips, drops the votive candle she is holding, oh Jesus save us, and with a pouff Gulbis, doused in accelerant, goes up like a box of tinder.
Screaming he falls back and lands on the stall he had constructed for the sale of his EscapeChutesTM, Buy two and get a third free! Escape Monday, Wednesday and Friday and then take the weekend off! Gulbis’s EscapeChutesTM satisfaction guaranteed or your money back. (Terms and conditions apply.)
Still he might have been ok, the flames might have been extinguished, dampening coats applied, piss if necessary, it was an emergency, but for the fact that with each of Gulbis’s Patented Packs came a box of gunpowder, to aid ascent, you can never fly too high!, acquired from a certain shady Uncle Kask, the artificer, and stored not a safe distance from the planned conflagration, or each other.
There is a huge explosion.
A hole is blown right through the wall.
Image from Pixabay.